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Most Common Boston Concrete Problems (& Next Steps)

October 30, 2020

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While this famed city offers some amazing, historic architecture, Boston concrete problems are not uncommon for both residential homes and commercial businesses. Whether the fault of low-quality materials and improper installation techniques, or just age and weather exposure, exterior and interior concrete, stone, brick, and other such materials break down eventually and then need repair or replacement.

concrete problems in boston ma

Before you decide to sell a home or office with a crumbling foundation or brick front, or simply try to patch over obvious holes and cracks, note some of the most common Boston concrete problems and what to do about them. You might also note when it’s good to leave these repairs in the hands of a Boston concrete repair professional, to ensure quality fixes that last!

Common Boston Concrete Problem #1: Crumbling Mortar

Mortar is put between concrete sections, brick, and stone to keep each piece in place. Over time, that mortar might absorb water and get soft and crumbly or dry out and become brittle, flaking off or falling away. Since this material plays such a vital role in the structural integrity of structures, don’t ignore crumbling mortar!

The process of replacing crumbling mortar is called re-pointing. Start by removing small sections of damaged or flaking mortar along the bed joints, meaning the horizontal mortar layers, to a 3/4” depth. Use a strong chisel or a 5-in-1 painter’s tool with a rubber mallet, gently tapping it into the mortar until you can pull out damaged materials.

Next, do the same with the vertical joints, remembering to work in small sections around just a few bricks or concrete sections at a time, to avoid compromising a wall’s structural stability. Spray down the area until the bricks or concrete pieces are soaked and start to drip; dry stones remove moisture from new mortar and don’t allow it to set properly, so ensure you’ve soaked the area thoroughly. Wait a day for the sections to expand and then dry out and contract before adding new mortar.

Mix your mortar filler and lightly mist the bricks or concrete surface before applying it. Use a tuck-pointing trowel to push new mortar to the back of the joint. Compact the mortar with the smooth side of the trowel and use a wet sponge to remove excess material.

crumbing mortar problems in boston ma

Common Boston Concrete Problem #2: Excessive Moisture

If basement walls in your home feel damp, and especially if you notice water dripping down their surface, you need to address that issue promptly. Excessive moisture softens concrete foundations while also attracting pests looking for a water source into your home.

First, check your home’s gutters and ensure they’re clog-free, attached to the home properly, and without gaps and leaks. Note if the downspouts are also free of damage and directing rainwater away from the home as needed. Your property should also be graded properly, to ensure water doesn’t collect around the foundation.

Next, address excessive dampness in your home’s basement with a high-quality dehumidifier. Choose one rated for your basement’s size, or invest in more than one if needed! A dehumidifier will remove excess moisture trapped in the basement, allowing the foundation to dry out properly.

If these fixes don’t remove that excess water and especially if you notice visible cracks and other damage, it’s time to call a Boston concrete repair company or foundation repair specialist. Damaged concrete might need removal or large-scale patching, to allow it to dry and ensure its overall structural stability.

Common Boston Concrete Problem #3: Cracks

Cracks are probably one of the most common Boston concrete problems you’ll ever come across! Concrete tends to expand as it absorbs moisture; if there are insufficient expansion joints between concrete sections, they might then push against each other, leading to pressure cracks. As concrete dries it then shrinks, also risking cracks. Concrete foundations also tend to shift and settle slightly over time, suffering cracks and other such damage.

Small, hairline cracks along concrete surfaces are not typically dangerous and don’t necessarily indicate the need for repairs. However, large cracks can make the concrete structurally unsound while allowing moisture into the material’s inner layers, risking even greater damage. Cracks in concrete foundations also allow moisture into the home, leading to mold growth, pest infestation, and musty smells.

Patch cracks along with exterior concrete quickly, to keep out moisture and avoid having those cracks get worse. Use a liquid concrete filler for cracks less than 1/4” wide. For larger cracks, clean out the damaged area, removing all weeds and other debris. Brush it with a wire brush, to ensure a clean surface.

Next, invest in a concrete patching compound and mix it according to the package directions. Apply the compound with a trowel and ensure you tamp it down as you work, allowing it to seep into the material’s lower layers. Let the mixture dry according to guidelines on the package, so it sets and cures as needed.

Use this same process to address larger cracks in exposed foundations; however, if the crack has gone through the wall, it’s time to call a Boston concrete cutter or foundation repair expert. Severely damaged concrete might need removal and replace, and patching compounds often won’t provide enough support to compensate for structural damage.

cracks in concrete wall

Common Boston Concrete Problem #4: Spalling

Spalling or concrete “cancer” is when concrete’s uppermost layers flake off in long or oversized pieces, or you notice large pits and pores forming in the concrete. Spalling is often caused by insufficient or poor-quality sealing, or rusted rebar and other supports inside the materials. Snow salt, automotive fluids, fertilizers, and other chemicals also eat away at concrete, leading to spalling.

To correct spalling, scrub the area with an outdoor brush and diluted dish soap, then rinse thoroughly. Next, cover the damaged area with what is called a concrete overlay, or a thin patching compound meant to be spread over concrete surfaces. Most overlays are simply mixed with water and then spread with a large trowel or outdoor brush, and they then dry and cure in place.

For severe spalling, call a Boston concrete repair contractor instead. He or she might check the material’s overall thickness and stability, and then cover it with a new concrete layer. This provides stability and strength to the area while fixing other common Boston concrete problems along a driveway, sidewalk, or other surface.

A Word from Our Team at Concrete Cutting & Coring Boston

This article was a collaborative effort by the professionals at Concrete Cutting & Coring Boston. Whenever you encounter concrete problems or require concrete services in Boston, we're the experts to get it done FAST! 

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